When we think about the issue of depression, we often picture a sad and socially withdrawn individual struggling to cope with basic everyday life. Our North American culture tends to view those suffering from this condition as being weak-minded, mentally unstable, or having some hidden character flaw. Contrary to what some believe, depression is not something a person can just “snap out of.” It is a disease affecting brain chemistry, not some internal light switch that can just be flipped on and off at will. For men, depression can be especially traumatic, as we learn early in life to be strong and internalize our problems. The sadness and accompanying feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness that depression brings will affect most if not all of us in some way. We, as well as family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, may experience acute or chronic episodes at some time in life. Those of us employed in healthcare will care for many people suffering from depression. As a professional, I have worked with numerous clients battling this disorder. One of a clinician’s primary responsibilities is to assess each person for depressive symptoms regularly and initiate prompt intervention for those who show the signs and symptoms of the condition. My heart aches for these people because of my personal experience with the disease.
How My Depression Started
My depression story began after finishing graduate school. My future looked bright, with a diploma in hand and a committed girlfriend. I was confident of having multiple options in a city with a population of 800,000. With no interviews in site two weeks after graduation, I began feeling discouraged. I started having trouble sleeping and was becoming increasingly anxious about my prospects. After two months with no change, I was quite low on money and unwilling to accept a minimum wage job.
Signs of Depression
My personal life was deteriorating, with my girlfriend pining for a ring, I couldn’t afford. Not willing to propose until I could support her, I could see the writing on the wall. We parted ways, and I moved back to my parents’ farm. Several weeks of manual labor were physically beneficial, but my mind continued its downward spiral. Intense feelings of failure, pessimism, and helplessness haunted me. My job search was barren until I was offered an entry-level position in my uncle’s company. The salary would allow me to get on my feet, so I moved 340 miles to begin my employment. The new job started off well and offered a chance to work in my field at a basic level. Unfortunately, due to an unexpected economic downturn, it ended after two and a half months. I was back to square one but managed to find part-time employment. The wage didn’t to cover my necessities, so I had to rely on my parents’ financial support as a supplement. My personal life was faring no better. I had reached a point of deep, unshakable sadness. Every time, I struggled to concentrate, had a poor appetite, and lost the desire for social interaction. Also, I viewed myself as an utter failure. Despite my emotional struggles, I forged ahead with my job quest, and six months later found full-time work in my field in the southern US. I resigned from my current job, and with Dad’s help moved down to start a fresh chapter of life. I wish I could say my black cloud completely dissolved with my upgraded employment status, but that didn’t happen.
Coping With Depression
Fourteen months later I moved up to another position within the company, and also began seeking professional help. Learning effective coping strategies from a licensed counselor enabled my depression to start improving. For many people, counseling, with a licensed mental health professional or a qualified member of the clergy can have a major positive impact. Talking through emotional trauma with an objective third party can aid in lifting the burden. Learning about our individual triggers and how to manage them by applying healthy and effective coping mechanisms can help reduce the frequency and duration of the episodes we experience.
Join a mental health support group
A primary coping tool for people battling depression is having a positive, mental health forum. In addition to the family, this can include friends and neighbors. Having someone who will listen without judging or try to “fix the problem” can be extremely beneficial. Keeping these social connections is vital because each of us needs consistent human interaction. For introverts like myself, this can be challenging because we often isolate ourselves when life gets overwhelming. Isolation will just make the depressive episode worse. Those who don’t feel comfortable talking through their thoughts and feelings may find a sense of release by keeping a regular journal. Don’t isolate yourself, join a caring support forum and participate in a depression chat room with people who have gone through the same situation.
Self-help materials and physical activity
For individuals who have financial concerns or simply don’t feel comfortable seeking professional help, self-help materials are another option. Many people use exercise and other types of enjoyable physical activity to cope successfully. As a clinician, I encourage clients to find time to relax and do something they like each day, even if it’s just for a brief period. Keep a daily schedule of structured time; this can help prevent one’s mind from spending too much energy dwelling on life’s problems. Decision-making can be hard when depressed because of “brain fog.” If possible, simplify your life by delaying or handing off important decisions to someone you trust until you can think clearly. One helpful choice that I failed to mention earlier is medication. Visiting a primary care physician and getting a prescription for an anti-depressant can improve sleep pattern and help manage the anxiety that often goes with depression.
I’d like to say that my struggles with depression are behind me, but that’s not true. The darkness still returns at times when I’m overwhelmed with my job, personal life, or am experiencing other circumstances I have little control over. I feel very fortunate to have a strong emotional support system of family, friends, and others who share my faith; they have gotten me through a number of difficult situations. I’ve learned the importance of staying connected with others, and have made a conscious effort not to allow myself to become isolated. Exercise has always been an effective coping tool for me and has helped me turn my mind away from my troubles. Reading and writing also consistently offer me relaxation and enjoyment. Depression can be challenging to understand for someone who has never experienced it. Learning that I have a history of it in my family has helped me reach out and offer support to other relatives struggling with the disease. A kind word, a gentle touch, a listening ear, or a silent prayer can be a great comfort to those passing through the emotional darkness.